How do we science? / Science / Scientists in Action!

I got my ‘Eye on Water’

Before writing this post, I did a quick search of UNdertheC looking for any hits related to ‘citizen science’, and surprisingly, nothing came up. I guess this means this will be the first post, tangentially related, to what is known as citizen science. So what is citizen science? The formal definition is:

‘the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.’

(aka: collection of scientific data by folks who don’t have the formal job title of ‘scientist’).

This concept has been growing in recent years, primarily due to 1. decreases in funding (citizen science = free labor); 2. increasing emphasis for projects to include an outreach component (citizen science = guaranteed outreach); and 3. the increasing use of technology and autonomous data collection instruments (there’s more data and there’s a growing need for more people to help analyze this data). Citizen science can be a huge benefit to any research project, but comes with some considerations and hurdles, mainly the citizen science aspect must be something folks can do easily, quickly, and with little equipment or background knowledge. But with the rise of smart phones and app development, these hurdles are becoming smaller and smaller. One example of citizen science is the ‘Eye on Water’ app which allows anybody with access to a smart phone (aka: you), to analyze and submit information about the color of water.

Water color

From dark, brown, muddy river water to crystal clear, blue-green water of the tropical ocean.

What is water color, you ask, and why does anybody care?! Great question! Turns out the color of water is really important for water quality and for understanding how organisms can use the water. Let’s take a simple example: as most folks have probably observed, water in rivers has a very different color than water in the open ocean. In rivers, the water is brown and very muddy looking (aka: turbid) whereas in the open ocean, the water is blue and very clear. These two different types of water have very different water quality and properties: river water contains lots of nutrients and sediment (as seen by the brown color and turbidity) while ocean water contains much fewer nutrients and essentially no sediments (aka: clear, blue water). And of course, there is a range of waters in between these two extremes as you move from the rivers to the ocean.

You can imagine that the different colors of water have important implications for how organisms use that water. In water with lots of nutrients in it, like the river water, things like phytoplankton can grow really easily, while water with less nutrients, like the open ocean water, fewer phytoplankton can grow. And even the color itself can be important to how things like fish use the water: in the river where the water is dark and muddy, it’s much easier for fish to hide, while in the open ocean, it’s much harder for these same creatures to avoid predation by simply hiding. And one of the most important things about the color of water is how the water color at a specific spot changes over time. This is actually one of the main goals of the Eye on Water app: to not only accumulate a global database of water color but also to accumulate a database that spans time. This is because changing water color can help scientists understand how these systems are changing in response to human-influences and climate change. If a water body changes from clear to muddy, then scientists can use this information to understand how the ecosystem is changing.

What can you do to help collect this information? Use the Eye on Water app! It’s super easy to use and the whole app walks you through the entire process step-by-step. But in case you want to be fully prepared, here’s a super quick guide!

  1. Download the app: go to your app store and search ‘Eye on Water Color’ (you can also download other Eye on Water apps for tracking water clarity and green seaweed).
  2. Go outside and find a body of water! This can be anything from a pond, river, stream, sound, ocean, etc. Any natural body of water (aka: no pools, please!).


    For me, it’s easy to find a water body. I just walk outside my office.

  3. Open the app and begin. The app will start with a few basic things you need to know: mainly, make sure the sun is behind you (otherwise, the sun’s reflection off the water will make it hard to determine the water color).

    Eye on water all

    When you first open the app, an intro will play that gives you a little bit or background.

  4. Once the intro stops, press ‘Get Started’.

    Get started

    Let’s get started!

  5. A screen like this will come up. Tilt your phone until it’s parallel with the water.


    Tilt your phone so it’s horizontal to the ground.

  6. Once your phone recognizes it’s parallel with the ground (phones are super smart…) this screen will pop-up. Make sure you have all water in the square it indicates and then press the camera button.


    When the screen looks like this, take a picture.

  7. Now, you have to match your water with a color swatch. It’s not going to be perfect, but do the best you can. There’s a range of colors from blue all the way to yellow. Find the one that seems to match the best, and then click the ‘+’ sign.


    Matching the colors is the hardest part. I’m not super great at it…just do your best.

  8. It will ask you a few questions:


    Almost done, just a few questions…

  9. Then press send!
  10. You’re all done. You can learn a little bit about the different color indexes, and then you can go to the Eye on Water, Color website and see where water color has been recorded all over the world!

Now you can look and see all the other places data has been collected. That’s a lot of points!

I’ve got my ‘Eye on Water’. Do you?

For more information, follow these links:

Citclops Website (the organization that started the app, and others)

Eye on Water App (more information on the app, and others)

Eye on Water Map (information on all the data points collected…so far)

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